Aid group warns of deaths due to lack of food and shel­ter

Even wa­ter and ba­sic hy­giene needs can­not be met be­cause of the sheer numbers, it says

The Straits Times - - TOPOF THE NEWS -

COX’S BAZAR (Bangladesh) Ro­hingya refugees i n Bangladesh could die due to a lack of food, shel­ter and wa­ter, given the huge numbers flee­ing vi­o­lence in Myan­mar, an aid agency warned yes­ter­day, as the au­thor­i­ties be­gan mov­ing peo­ple to camps to stream­line the dis­tri­bu­tion of help.

More than 400,000 mem­bers of the Ro­hingya Mus­lim mi­nor­ity have fled from Myan­mar’s western Rakhine state to Bangladesh in an ef­fort to es­cape a mil­i­tary of­fen­sive that the United Na­tions has branded a “text­book ex­am­ple of eth­nic cleans­ing”.

“Many peo­ple are ar­riv­ing hun­gry, ex­hausted, and with no food or wa­ter,” said Mr Mark Pierce, Bangladesh coun­try di­rec­tor for aid agency Save the Chil­dren, in a state­ment. “I’m par­tic­u­larly wor­ried that the de­mand for food, shel­ter, wa­ter and ba­sic hy­giene sup­port is not be­ing met due to the sheer num­ber of peo­ple in need. If fam­i­lies can’t meet their ba­sic needs, the suf­fer­ing will get even worse and lives could be lost.”

Bangladesh has for decades faced in­fluxes of Ro­hingya refugees flee­ing Bud­dhist-ma­jor­ity Myan­mar, where they are re­garded as il­le­gal mi­grants. It was al­ready home to 400,000 Ro­hingya refugees be­fore the lat­est cri­sis erupted on Aug 25, when Ro­hingya in­sur­gents at­tacked po­lice posts and an army camp in the western state of Rakhine, killing a dozen peo­ple.

Mr Pierce said the hu­man­i­tar­ian re­sponse needed to be rapidly scaled up, adding: “That can only be done if the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity steps up fund­ing.”

Rights mon­i­tors and flee­ing Ro­hingya refugees say that Myan­mar se­cu­rity forces and Rakhine Bud­dhist vig­i­lantes re­sponded to the Aug 25 in­sur­gent at­tacks with a cam­paign of vi­o­lence and ar­son aimed at driv­ing out the Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion. Myan­mar re­jects the al­le­ga­tion, say­ing its se­cu­rity forces are car­ry­ing out clear­ance oper­a­tions against the in­sur­gents of the Arakan Ro­hingya Sal­va­tion Army, which claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the Au­gust at­tacks.

The Myan­mar gov­ern­ment has de­clared the group a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion and ac­cused it of set­ting the fires and at­tack­ing civil­ians.

Bangladesh bor­der guards said the flow of refugees leav­ing Myan­mar had eased over the past day, ap­par­ently be­cause bad weather had dis­cour­aged peo­ple from tak­ing to boats to reach Bangladesh. Heavy rain has turned roads into mud, leav­ing refugees to hud­dle un­der shel­ters of bam­boo and plas­tic sheets by the road­side.

The Bangladesh au­thor­i­ties said they have also started mov­ing an es­ti­mated 100,000 Ro­hingya liv­ing by the roads to camps that have been des­ig­nated as aid points.

“We’re not al­low­ing any dis­tri­bu­tion to any­one from the side of the road,” said dis­trict gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial Kazi Ab­dur Rah­man. “We want to con­vince them there’s ev­ery­thing in the camp and noth­ing here.”

A big new camp has been planned, but it is un­clear how long it would take to be built.

“Peo­ple are liv­ing i n these muddy, aw­ful con­di­tions. You have to get them to some sort of space where aid can be de­liv­ered,” said Mr Chris Lom of the In­ter­na­tional Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Mi­gra­tion. “Clean wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion can only be de­liv­ered in a struc­tured en­vi­ron­ment.”

Ac­cord­ing to Myan­mar, more than 430 peo­ple have been killed, most of them in­sur­gents, and about 30,000 non-Mus­lim vil­lagers have been dis­placed.

Myan­mar gov­ern­ment leader and No­bel lau­re­ate Aung San Suu Kyi has faced a bar­rage of crit­i­cism from abroad for not stop­ping the vi­o­lence. The mil­i­tary, how­ever, re­mains in full con­trol of the se­cu­rity pol­icy and there is lit­tle sym­pa­thy for the Ro­hingya i n a coun­try where the end of army rule has un­leashed old an­i­mosi­ties.

Ms Suu Kyi is due to make her first ad­dress to the na­tion on the cri­sis to­mor­row.

In a BBC in­ter­view, UN SecretaryGeneral Antonio Guterres said the stakes were high for the speech, call­ing it a “last chance” to stop the un­fold­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian calamity.

“If she does not re­verse the sit­u­a­tion now, then I think the tragedy will be ab­so­lutely hor­ri­ble, and un­for­tu­nately then I don’t see how this can be re­versed in the fu­ture,” he said.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Ro­hingya refugees tak­ing shel­ter from the rain in a camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, yes­ter­day. More than 400,000 mem­bers of Myan­mar’s Ro­hingya Mus­lim mi­nor­ity have fled the coun­try’s western Rakhine state to Bangladesh in an ef­fort to es­cape a mil­i­tary of­fen­sive that the UN called a “text­book ex­am­ple of eth­nic cleans­ing”.

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